Apple's Ping seems half-baked at launch

A scanty selection of artists to follow and missed opportunities to encourage user interaction are among the early problems.

commentary I downloaded iTunes 10 this morning to test Ping with a fellow Directions analyst and I'm completely underwhelmed. What was Apple thinking? The company made its name designing delightful user interfaces that just work, and while iTunes has always seemed like a bit of an afterthought--especially on Windows--compared with Apple hardware, Ping seems particularly rushed and half-finished. Especially in comparison with the last major music-related feature addition, Genius in iTunes 8 , which had a pretty strong "wow" factor at launch.

Ping populated the "Music I Like" section of my profile with songs I've downloaded from iTunes, which make up about 1 percent of my total library. Screenshot

When you sign up for Ping, it asks you to create a profile and by default selects 10 favorite songs to display there. But Ping doesn't gather these songs based on your ratings or frequency of playback. Instead, it sticks to songs that you've downloaded from iTunes. Yes, I downloaded a Cheryl Crow song once (it was free, it was for my wife, whatever excuse you want to accept), but that doesn't mean she's one of the 10 artists I want to represent me in public. Fortunately, you can populate your own list of 10 songs--but only from songs that are available for sale (and preview) on iTunes. Meaning no Beatles.

Once you're signed up, it gives you a list of suggested artists to follow. Right now, the list has 14 pop/rock artists, none of whom are very interesting to me. (Enough Lady Gaga already, please.) That's OK, though, as it also lets you search for artists to follow. Except after I conducted about a dozen searches of rock and pop acts with tens of millions of record sales (Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young) and more obscure indie favorites (Animal Collective, Mr. Bungle) only one showed up--Pink Floyd. Worse yet, I tried to follow somebody claiming to be Bruce Springsteen from New Jersey, but it turned out to be another user spoofing the Boss. (There should be a rock and roll jail for such crimes.)

The lack of participation at this early stage is understandable, as Apple probably had to sign deals with artists prior to launch. But for artists not in the system, Apple should have linked to their iTunes bio, pictures, or something. Instead, you get an imposingly blank page with "Your search had no results." How many times will users be willing to see this page before giving up?

Missed opportunities like this abound. When I click on "My Reviews," an error message pops up saying that "this person" (uh, that's me!) doesn't have any reviews. I'd like to write a review, but it gives me no information on how to go about it. Another example: I sent an e-mail invitation to my colleague inviting him to follow me, but when he accepted, I got no notification. He simply appeared in the "People Who Follow Me" tab. And unlike Facebook, where accepting a friend creates a two-way relationship, Ping is one-way only--I had to send him a second message before I could start following him.

I'm sure that Ping will improve over time, especially as more of my friends jump aboard. That's often how Apple rolls--release, then iterate. In the meantime, if you want to follow me, search for Matt Rosoff. I'll follow you back.

 

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